Open Source Magic

by Fra. A.o.C.

An explanation of the concept of Open Source as it applies to our work.

Much has been made of late in the Computer Sciences of the “open source” style of computer programming. To many, it is the Holy Grail of computing, to others (like Very Large Software Inc.) it is the end of civilization as we know it.

But what is the idea behind it, and how does it relate to the practice of Magick?

Open Source computer programs are, simply put, those whose inner workings — the computer “source” code itself — are available to anyone and furthermore, are modifiable by programmers other than those who created the software in the first place.

The most famous Open Source computer software is Linux, the operating system that was fashioned after Bell Laboratories UNIX system, and competes with other operating systems such as Windows and Mac OS. Another widely used Open Source program is Apache, an Internet server program that is the host software for more than half the ISP computer systems in the world.

This is in contrast to “closed” computer programs — for example, everything Microsoft has ever created, and what they jealously guard and protect by both technological and legal means. To their way of thinking, if everyone had the ability to mess around with software “intellectual property”, then the incentive to create new and exciting computer programs — i.e. the ability to make great sums of money of them — would be destroyed, and chaos would soon follow.

In the computer science community, Open Source also implies that it’s not only POSSIBLE to examine and alter the original programming code, but such tinkering is ENCOURAGED, rather than suppressed. To this end, certain commonalties of usage and form are generally adhered to in order to make the modification process as accessible as possible.

To be specific, Open Source computer programs must follow these guidelines:

1. Free Redistribution

Anyone is free to copy and pass around the program without restriction or payment of royalties. It is “non-copyrighted” material.

2. Open Source Code

Source code is the building blocks of a computer program, in the form that was used by the original programmer. Virtually all computer programs are originally written in a “high level” language (like C++, Java, Pascal, or BASIC) that humans can understand and manipulate — this is the “source” — and then “compiled” or converted into the ones-and-zeros that only a computer can use. Once the source is converted into pure computer code, it is difficult or impossible for a human to understand, much less alter, the program. So Open Source programs always include the “source” information so others can alter or expand on the program’s functions.

3. Derived Works

As mentioned previously, this permits other programmers to modify and derive new programs from an original program.

4. Integrity of The Author’s Source Code

The idea here is that when someone modifies or adds to an original program, they include all of the original material along with it, so others can also modify it.

5. No Discrimination Against Persons or Groups

The license must not discriminate against any person or group of persons. It must be open to all.

6. No Discrimination Against Fields of Endeavor

For example, it may not restrict the program from being used in a business, or from being used for genetic research.

7. Distribution of License

The rights attached to the program must apply to all to whom the program is redistributed without any further authorization.

8. License Must Not Be Specific to a Product

The rights attached to the program must not depend on the program’s being part of a particular software distribution. So for example, a programmer can extract a searching routine from a database program and use it in a graphics program.

9. The License Must Not Restrict Other Software

This simply allows a programmer to distribute their OWN special (even copyrighted) software along with Open Source software.

There are legal definitions used to cover Open Source software, most commonly the General Public License or GPL, which codifies much of the above list of attributes. Since software can be commercially useful and valuable, some kind of legal codification is always in place when money changes hands.

So how does all of this apply to the Art of Magick?

If we draw a comparison between the rituals and methods of ceremonial magick and those of computer programming, some interesting parallels emerge. Both are somewhat “arcane” human endeavors, requiring much study and inculcation of unique symbolism and nomenclature before they can be effectively used. Both disciplines are goal-oriented, generally undertaken to codify certain procedures that yield a definite result.

While the computer sciences work with mathematical symbols and operations that drive analytical-calculation devices to achieve certain goals, magickal sciences work with psychological symbols and operations that drive the subconscious and psychic mind to achieve certain goals.

In the bona fide magickal “traditions”, such as the Goetia, Enochian or Abra-Melin, it is made abundantly clear that NO modifications to the original texts, artifacts, incantations, procedures, pronunciations, symbols, etc. are permitted. While these restrictions are not enforceable by law or contract, the traditions that come down with these systems usually include admonishments to the practitioner to change nothing, or risk dire consequences.

Other magickal traditions, such as those associated with lodges or covens, such as Wicca or the Golden Dawn, are approached as “secret societies” whose members are under oath not to reveal various levels of secrecy; oaths are enforced by decree from the upper echelons and by fear of reprisal by either arcane means (“curses upon the oath breakers!”) or in some cases, such as the O.T.O., by legal copyright sanctions.

In some cases only certain parts of the tradition are secret (such as passwords and handshakes), in some cases the major part of the lodge’s functions are kept secret (the rituals and symbolism), and in extreme cases one is not even allowed to admit to others that the lodge or coven exists!

In this manner, the great majority of magickal traditions can be compared to the “secret” and copyrighted forms of computer programs. Only certain “inner circles” (the company’s programmers and officers) are allowed access to the “inner secrets” (the source codes) of the software, usage of the software is restricted to those “initiates” (people who have bought and paid for the software) who possess the “passwords” or “keys” (such as original CD or disk copies), and distribution of the software (“revealing the secrets”) is prohibited by oath (licensing agreements) and by copyright law.

In the case of Chaos Magick, it represents the kind of “custom code” associated with free-lance computer programmers who work for clients (even if the client is themselves) to attain specific goals. Most often, the resultant programs are “proprietary” and kept secret — or at least, not designed or intended for distribution to anyone else. Although this kind of computer software work has a an the attitude of “D.I.Y.” similar to that of the Chaotes, there is no attempt to profit directly from distributing the code itself, so it is still not Open Source. The purpose is to accomplish a goal, not create a tool others can use to accomplish that goal.

So what then would constitute “open source magick”?

Simply put, it would be a magical “tradition” — and it doesn’t matter if the tradition is one hour or a thousand years old — which conforms to the same parameters as open source computer software. To use the same list of attributes as before:

1. Free Redistribution

Anyone is free to copy and pass around the rituals, operations, lectures, knowledge documents, etc. without restriction or payment of royalties. It is “anti-copyrighted” material.

2. Open Source Code

All the symbolism and ritual procedures of the magick are spelled out in simple, easy to understand language, with no effort to bury the real meanings in arcane names, archaic terms or specialized nomenclature. If such trappings are a necessary part of the system, then they are explained fully so that a person of reasonable intelligence and learning can grasp the basic fundamentals. Symbols and their meanings are clearly explained. Background materials are referenced and explanatory notes are included. The goal is to make the inner workings accessible enough that a canny practitioner could expand upon and/or modify the system and still derive magickal value from it.

3. Derived Works

The actual goal of open source — as mentioned above, one may take parts of the original works and derive variations that would also be magically useful. No artificial restrictions are placed on it, such as the admonishments “not to change so much as the style of a letter!”

4. Integrity of The Author’s Source Code

That those who expand upon the original system make reference to that system, so others may “backtrack” to it and derive their own expansions and derivatives.

5. No Discrimination Against Persons or Groups

One cannot restrict the use of the system to certain people — by gender, for example, or only by those of a particular ethnic background.

6. No Discrimination Against Fields of Endeavor

One cannot include admonishments to “only use it for personal enlightenment” or “only for healing aims”, or some other value judgments such as “white” or “black” magick (whatever that may mean to a particular philosophy.)

7. Distribution of License

That every practitioner of the system is fully “authorized” to use the system and it’s tools and procedures — that no one is considered a “heretic” or “usurper” to be sanctioned against its use. There are no passwords or secret procedures open only to “official” members of the tradition.

8. License Must Not Be Specific to a Product

That the original system’s philosophies or intentions are not made part and parcel of the system itself. A person or group may develop a magical procedure or system for accomplishing some large overriding goal (such as “World Enlightenment”), but it is not required that other practitioners share that goal in using the tools of the system.

9. The License Must Not Restrict Other Software

This would apply to other practitioners that add on to the original system — such add-ons would not be considered “non-canonical” or improper for any reason.

There are three notable examples of groups promoting real Open Source Magic that can be accessed on the World Wide Web.

The AutonomatriX (http://www.ax.boudicca.de/), a Guild of Chaos Magicians dedicated to the propagation of magickal knowledge and information (of which I am a member.) Their entire “Book of Shadows”, called The Corpus Fecundi, is publicly available and “anti-copyrighted”, allowing anyone to use the materials therein in any way they see fit. They also maintain a page on their website for Commentaries by others who use their work. The Guild has no “secrets”, and membership is open to anyone who can get an active member to Sponsor them.

“The AutonomatriX is a networking chaos magic guild of those striving to discover, rejuvenate and disseminate magical ideas and technical skills with success as the only key to validation. AutonomatriX is control under self and selves under their own control. A Member of the AutonomatriX agrees that he/she can be inspired by others’ work and wishes to exchange information with and inspire others; the only requirement for Membership is the willingness to contribute and distribute information.”

The Horus-Maat Lodge (http://www.HorusMaatLodge.net), a Thelemic organization based on the works of Crowley and Nema (author of “Ma’at Magick”), with an open membership by declaration and access to all the Lodge’s rites and workings.

“The Horus Current of revolution and ecstasy, which was heralded through the Eye of Frater Perdurabo and others; The Maat Current of mystery and mutation, which was heralded through the triangle of Soror Nema, Frater Achad, Frater Belarion and others. These systems have been found to be excellent springboards from which to leap into your own True Will, a basis for your own individual formulae of magick… There are no degrees, lessons, laws, requirements, or restrictions of any kind in the H.M.L., save Truth. Your suggestions are eagerly invited, the Lodge can go anywhere from here.”

And there is the Open Source Order of the Golden Dawn (http://www.osogd.org), of which I am also a member, which has taken the vast corpus of the Golden Dawn tradition, modifying and updating it, and releasing it’s resulting rituals and teaching materials to the general public. Unlike the Horus-Maat Lodge, it is an Initiatory Order with a teaching curriculum based on the classic Hermetic Order’s methods and sources.

“Following the demonstrably advantageous practice of the Open Source Software movement, we build our Order on the sources of knowledge that are accessible to anyone. Our sources are already open; we simply affirm this obvious fact. We have no “secrets” to conceal, in particular those that have already been revealed. And in any case, the era of artificial secrecy is at an end. Ours is the Information Age, and we embrace it fully.”

The spirit of “D.I.Y.” and building on what has gone before — the spirit of the Open Source movement — will continue to influence and typify the exploration of Occult Arts in the 21st Century, and it is a development that is long overdue.


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